U.N. chief calls for restart to Western Sahara talks: document

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 11, 2017 2:39 AM

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for new talks over the long-running Western Sahara dispute, saying the negotiations should include proposals from both Morocco and the Polisario independence movement, according to a U.N. document.

The U.N. call for a restart to talks came after months of tensions in the disputed territory, which Morocco claims as part of its kingdom and Polisario says belongs to the Sahrawi people who fought a guerrilla war until a 1991 U.N.-backed ceasefire.

U.N. attempts to broker a settlement have failed for years in the vast desert area, which has contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory while Polisario established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.

"I intend to propose that the negotiating process be relaunched with a new dynamic and a new spirit," the U.N. chief said in his report presented for review to the security council on Monday.

"For progress to be made, the negotiations must be open to both parties' proposals and ideas. Algeria and Mauritania, as neighbouring countries, can and should make important contributions to this process."

The 1991 ceasefire called for a U.N.-supported referendum on the region's future, including the possibility of independence. But that vote never happened. Morocco has since made its own proposal for autonomy under the kingdom's sovereignty, but Polisario wants the U.N. referendum.

Since the end of fighting Western Sahara has effectively been split in two, part controlled by Morocco and part by Polisario forces, divided by a heavily mined earthen berm. Many Sahrawis live in refugee camps inside southern Algeria.

Last year, tensions spiked during a standoff in the remote Guerguerat area. U.N. peacekeepers stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Andrew Heavens)